SEATTLE - For a few weeks, Michael Sean Stanley managed to cut away from a troubled life in Canada and navigate a bizarre pathway to freedom.
The sex offender removed his electronic monitoring bracelet, eluded a Canadian manhunt and headed for the border. He was allowed to cross into Washington state, where local authorities told the U.S. citizen to register as a sex offender but didn't arrest him, since he'd committed no crimes here.
Less than four days after registering, Stanley was accused this week of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old in a Seattle alley in a case that has caused alarm on both sides of the border and exposed a challenging dynamic of cross-border relations.
"This, for us, was the worst-case scenario," Seattle Police Det. Renee Witt said. "Our worst fear was realized when this kid came forward and said Stanley had attempted to sexually assault him."
Stanley's criminal record in Canada dates back to 1987.
The 48-year-old last received a 32-month prison term for assault and forcible confinement involving two mentally challenged boys. Parole Board records say he lured the boys into a washroom, blew crack smoke in their faces and then sexually assaulted them.
Parole records also detail the sexual assault of an elderly woman and charges he exposed himself to kids.
That wasn't enough to stop him at the U.S. border, because he had already served his time for his violent crimes and was only being sought at the time for charges related to removing his monitoring bracelet. Canadian officials hadn't sought a provisional arrest warrant that would allow U.S. officials to arrest an American citizen on home soil.
Even once Stanley crossed the border, Canada could have sought such a warrant and Seattle officials could have nabbed him and sent him back, said Gary Botting, a criminal defence and extradition lawyer based in the Vancouver area. But in this case, Canadian authorities didn't seek that type of warrant or ask for his extradition, saying his crimes weren't serious enough.
To seek extradition would have been time-consuming and costly. If Stanley was returned and convicted, he likely would have gotten credit for time served in custody and released, Botting said.
It could cost have the Canadian government close to $1 million to accomplish little.
On the U.S. side, a citizen who flees back to his home country must be let back in if there's no warrant to arrest him, Botting said.
"If he's an American citizen, he's home free," Botting said.
Shayne Saskiw, justice critic with Alberta's Opposition Wildrose, said some people had argued to leave Stanley in the United States so that Canada didn't have to deal with him anymore.
"I didn't feel that was right," said Saskiw, who pressed the government to seek Stanley's extradition. "I don't think it's fair to one of our close allies — the United States — to dump predators into their areas without, at a minimum, appropriate monitoring systems in place."
Witt said authorities did all they could after Stanley's arrival in the city.
Seattle police said they encountered Stanley early Tuesday morning after a series of calls reported noise in a west Seattle alley, and Stanley was accused of threatening someone who asked him to be quiet. When police arrived, Stanley was appeared intoxicated, crawled out of a trash bin and became combative, according to a police report.
Detectives believe the attack on the teen happened before that arrest. Authorities said Stanley met a boy at a west Seattle grocery store, struck up a conversation and walked with him to an alley where he plied the teen with alcohol and attacked him. The boy pulled a knife and was able to escape. Police say charges in that case are forthcoming.
Stanley made a first appearance Wednesday morning on the harassment charge, wearing a red jail uniform with his hands shackled in front of him. Stanley pleaded not guilty to the charge.
At a Seattle preschool, near where Stanley registered he'd be living, his arrest brought relief, mixed with sadness that there may be another victim of the man with a quarter century Canadian criminal record.
"It's been intense," said Ilene Stark, executive director at Pike Market Child Care and Preschool. "It felt like there was a threat in our community and that we needed to be much more vigilant — more than in everyday life. It was disconcerting."
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--With files from The Canadian Press